Infinity Train Creator Owen Dennis Discusses Why Cartoons Should Scare Kids Sometimes

Image: Cartoon Network

While Cartoon Network’s Infinity Train is packed with all kinds of wondrous, magical things to marvel at, the series’ first few episodes have featured a handful of objectively terrifying moments. And they seem to be foreshadowing that Tulip, Atticus, and One-One are sure to find themselves in life-threatening danger while journeying through the Hypertrain. We spoke with creator Owen Dennis all about it.

Editor's Note: Oddly enough, Infinity Train is actually coming to Australia's Stan streaming service, rather than Cartoon Network. The episodes will be available on Saturday, August 10.

Just as Tulip’s begun to relax a bit and have fun on the neverending train, she happens upon a door that leads to its exterior, where she witnesses a massive tentacle of energy plunge from a vortex in the sky and grab a person, while seemingly disintegrating them in the process. It’s a horrifying and sudden moment that establishes the idea that Tulip’s likely safer on the train than off, which is saying something given the soul-eating cockroach hounds she meets in one car, and the nightmarish, Sentinel-like robots that attack her, insisting she return to her seat.

When I spoke with Infinity Train’s Owen Dennis about the series’ horror-focused elements, he explained that he wanted to avoid the way a lot of animated, adventure-focused shows gradually introduce darkness into the picture after leading with more lighthearted plot lines.

Dennis said that while we might not think of kids’ shows as being the right place for horror, being able to stumble across things that freaked him out was an important part of growing up, and he’s confident that other people had the same experience.

The whole tone of Infinity Train is sort of like my memory of random tapes and stuff that I picked up at the library when I was a kid. That meant picking up a lot of animated shows and movies that were straight to VHS from the ‘80s and early ‘90s when it feels like things were a little more rough in terms of what the kids were allowed to watch. Now, I think that people have this tendency of like, ‘Kids can watch happy things and I only want them to be sure to watch these happy things.’ But that wasn’t the stuff that was intriguing to me when I was a kid. It’s not the stuff that’s intriguing to most kids.

I remember that feeling of seeing something scary and seeing something that I had no context for. I’d never understood ever seeing something like that before and being like ‘What is this? I’m scared by it, but for some reason I’m drawn to it and I want to see more.’ Getting that feeling across was important to me. The feeling of being afraid of what you’re looking at but you really, really need to see more.

Everything about Infinity Train — from the ominous musical riffs that play beneath its title card to the peril it puts its heroes in — makes the series feel like it has legitimate stakes, because the show never waits too long to make sure that you’re feeling a bit uneasy if not straight-up scared.

Though Dennis understands some people’s instincts to decouple content aimed at younger audiences from the scary ideas that inspired those stories, he also embraces the idea that being exposed to it plays a role in the way people develop a healthy understanding of them. Also, he pointed out that while something on television can freak you out, it’s still just something on television that one can easily turn off and distance themselves from, should they need to:

Watching something on TV is quite literally the safest way that you can possibly experience fear. I guess maybe if somebody just told you about something scary that’s a safer way. But what it does is it actually triggers the same parts of your brain that are your fight or flight response.

If you’re showing things that are scary to kids — obviously within reason — but if you’re showing things that are scary to kids, what’s going to happen is it’s going to start to train up their brain to be like ‘Hey you feel scared right now. Why do you feel scared? What do you do when you’re scared? When you’re afraid of something, what’s your reaction going to be?’ And what it’ll do is make them talk to their parents who will make the kid feel that fear without the actual danger of what could happen if you were actually in a real moment of fear.

No one’s actually going to come out of the TV and murder you.

To be fair, the same necessarily isn’t true for Tulip. While she hasn’t encountered anything that’s crawled out of a television that wants to kill her, that’s very much the kind of thing that could happen on Infinity Train. But honestly, that and the fact that Tulip’s able to set her fear aside when she needs to is part of what makes Infinity Train the thrilling ride it is.


Infinity Train is streaming on Stan from August 10.

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